Movie reviews: Suffragette, Red Army, and Tana Bana
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases: Suffragette, Red Army, and Tana Bana.
It's hard to get one's head around the fact that, just 100 years ago, in a country as supposedly advanced and civilised as Britain, women didn't have the vote, but that's the egregious state of affairs recalled by Suffragette (2*, 12A, 106mins).
Written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron, the film rejects a straight biopic of suffragette leaders like Emmeline Pankhurst in favour of a more earthy and broadly representative drama. Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a fictional worker at an East London sweatshop laundry.
It's 1913, and while the odious foreman stands about smoking his pipe and sexually abusing passing teenage girls, the women work long days in appalling conditions. Maud minds her own business but is slowly radicalised by a firebrand colleague called Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff).
Through Violet, Maud meets Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), an associate of Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragettes' fugitive leader. Gradually, Maud is drawn further and further into the fight, to the horror of her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw).
This is broad strokes history, safe and sanctimonious, and Meryl Streep's much vaunted appearance as Mrs Pankhurst is forgettable, and brief. Carey Mulligan has a drippy quality that makes her characters hard to engage with, and Maud's story is not quite as moving as it might be. A better film might have been made by focusing directly on the story of Emily Wilding Davison, the brave soul who won the suffragette war by throwing herself under the King's horse at Epsom. She appears here, but almost anonymously, and remains on the sidelines of this dull, dreary and stultifyingly worthy film.
In February, 1980, during the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, a callow team of American college players defeated the Russian national ice hockey team to win the gold medal. This was at the height of the Cold War, and American commentators missed no opportunity to rub their opponents' faces in it. But that victory was a flash in the pan, and the Soviet team beaten that day was perhaps the greatest hockey side ever assembled.
Gabe Polsky's wry and brilliant documentary Red Army (5*, 12A, 84mins) tells their story, and most specifically that of Slava Fetisov, the Russian team's iconic defender and leader. In the 1960s and '70s, the Soviet Union's national ice hockey program was run with ruthless efficiency by the Red Army.
Fetisov began training in his early teens, and was mentored by the great Anatoly Tarasov, a visionary coach who encouraged his players to incorporate the grace of ballet and the tactics of chess into their hockey. From this approach a great team grew that would win two Olympic golds and dominate the sport for over a decade. But when Tarasov was replaced by a KGB sourpuss called Tikhonov, a happy camp was sundered.
Mr Polsky tells his story using newsreels and sometimes hilariously ill-tempered interviews with the players. And Fetisov himself is the star of this show, a handsome, rugged, intimidating man who still can't quite bring himself to criticise the motherland.
With quiet and unfussy efficiency, Pat Murphy's evocative documentary Tana Bana (4*, No Cert, IFI, 77mins) immerses us in the harsh but colourful world of Moslem silk weavers in Utter Pradesh. For centuries, the weavers of Banarsi have been famed for their beautiful and intricate hand-woven cloths and saris. But this skilled and difficult work is incredibly poorly paid, especially given the high prices the saris ultimately fetch, and the ancient Banarsi skills are now threatened by the arrival of hi-tech Chinese power looms.
Ms Murphy's beguiling film gives us a potent, dreamy insight into a way of life that may be about to vanish.
Coming soon... The Program (Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd); Pan (Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara); The Lobster (Colin Farrell); Hotel Transylvania 2 (Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg).